What are ICC profiles? In order to understand what they are, we first have to grasp how we perceive colors. The average human eye has three types of cone cells and when combined, can perceive up to a million different colors. Technically, what our eyes ‘see’ depends on how much light the cone cells pick up. We have three types of cones: red, green, and blue. And if you work with color regularly, you’ll find it familiar to an RGB color model. Devices such as monitors, cameras, and printers are invented to reproduce colors closest to the human eye.
Continue reading to find out why ICC profiles are important for creative work, whether it’s photography, illustration, or printing work. Or explore ViewSonic ColorPro monitors, which are color-calibrated for utmost accuracy and consistency.
However, like how one person possibly sees more color than another, the reproduction of color varies across different devices. To illustrate this point, look at the same image on two different displays, perhaps your monitor and mobile phone, and you will see slight or drastic differences in color. And this is where ICC profiles come to play.
What is ICC Profile?
Formed in 1993 by various vendors such as Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, and Kodak, the International Color Consortium (ICC) is a color management system that streamlines the reproduction of color across all operating systems and software packages. An ICC profile (usually defined with a .icc or .icm extension) is a system used to describe the color characteristics of a particular device.
For professionals who work in photography, videography, graphics, and illustrations, color management and reproduction will be one of their concerns. Especially when each piece of equipment calibrate color differently, it is essential to have a standardization for color to match when moved across devices, applications, and operating systems.
What does ICC Profile do?
To understand ICC profiles, we will need to have some basic knowledge about color space. Color space is a defined range of colors based on numerical values. Examples of color spaces are CMYK, Adobe RGB, and sRGB. You will need to concern yourself with the latter two. Adobe RGB is usually preferred on cameras and printers, and sRGB is best used for web content.
Think about input profiles as the starting point of color management, they are color spaces from input devices such as digital cameras and scanners. No two scanners or cameras will capture the image at the same RGB values. You can try taking a photo with two different cameras and compare the color definition. The colors will change once more when you move the photos onto a screen, such as a monitor or a laptop.
By using ICC profiling, it will interpret and put the RGB values into their correct context. This means any capture or scan made with the calibrated and profiled device will have a consistent color. By enforcing good color management, it saves you time and effort to correct and edit the image when transferred onto a monitor.
For most cameras, the profiles are automatically set sRGB by default. You would get good enough colors, but not the best. To control and achieve more accurate lifelike colors, try using Adobe RGB or shooting in RAW format. Scanners usually convert all files to sRGB, but you can download, install, and assign specific ICC profiles from the respective scanner manufacturer’s websites to get the right calibration.
Display profiles instruct how color appears on monitors and projectors. This is where you would manipulate and edit your illustrations and photos. However, all monitors display color differently. It is also essential to know that all monitors reproduce color differently and that over time, the quality of color reproduction deteriorates.
To achieve the most accurate colors onscreen, you would want to look at a monitor that offers at least full sRGB coverage, 99% Adobe RBB, and 98% DCI-P3. You will also need to calibrate your screen at hardware and software levels. For the hardware, the OSD settings, which include brightness, contrast, gamma, and color temperature, will have to be placed at recommended levels. Thereafter, the screen will have to be profiled at a graphics card level. When combined with the corrected OSD settings, you can use additional ICC profiles for extra corrections.
Monitor calibration devices such as colorimeters align the communication between the graphics card and the hardware to ensure long-term color consistency and accuracy. They can measure the actual color displayed on your monitor, calibrate, and re-profile it to maintain consistency. Some calibration devices such as the Color Wheel offer control of OSD settings alongside color calibration capabilities.
Cameras and scanners are known as input devices, so printers would be considered as output devices. Depending on the type of paper (surface, whiteness, and texture) and ink cartridge used, the printer can have many different output profiles. Sometimes known as printer profiles, they will then define how the color space is reproduced across the printing medium.
One way to prevent inconsistency in printing is soft proofing. It is a process that emulates the output profile on the display. It gives the user an accurate color representation of the image or file on the monitor before it goes for print. To simulate the soft proof, you will need a fully calibrated monitor, a custom output profile that is measured for the printer, ink, paper, and driver settings, and color-managed software such as Photoshop or Lightroom.
Why Creators and Designers Need ICC Profiles
Without ICC profiles, colors and images on your illustrations, graphics, and photos will change between digital devices and printers. There are many factors to be concerned with – from the properties of the printing medium (like the surface and whiteness of the paper) to the ink cartridges of the printer. Each component requires its own profile to ensure utmost color consistency.
The correct ICC profiles will retain the colors and optimize the final print result even when it moves across different devices. For example, imagine you’ve created and designed a whole collection of beautiful brand collaterals with a specific shade of color. You would not want the color on the printed brochure to differ from the business cards too drastically. Inconsistent color will give customers a bad impression of the brand.
In the case of photography, the photo-to-print workflow will have color travel through different devices from the camera and monitor to the printer. This leaves plenty of opportunities for color to shift. So, if not calibrated and profiled properly, inconsistent color can result in poor editing decisions and expensive printing work. ICC profiles help remove any color errors right from the start and ensure vibrant colors on the final printed photo.
How to Install and Sync ICC Profiles in Your Monitor?
With all that being said, installing and syncing the right ICC profiles across all your devices is a vital step to ensure color consistency. It is, however, a tedious and complex process if your monitor doesn’t include ICC syncing software.
For example, if you are trying to sync color profiles on a Windows desktop or a MacBook, there will be about 8 or more steps to take. First, you need to check if you have the right color profiles within your disk or disk drive. If not, you’ll have to download model-specific profiles from the manufacturer’s website. Next, you’ll have to extract and locate the .icm files and then install them. The installation process involves selecting each and every device and syncing the downloaded profile accordingly. A slight color change will only occur if the entire process is done properly.
Some displays, such as ViewSonic ColorPro professional monitors, are already equipped with software such as ICC Profile Automatic Installer and ICCSync. The former automatically install ICC profiles that correspond to the display and the latter intuitively syncs the color setting between the monitor and graphics card. This removes the need to manually install and sync every single profile, saving you time and effort to focus on your creative ideas instead. With ICCSync, all it takes is one click to get all the different color profiles across your devices synced up.
In a profession where color makes a key difference from mediocre work to an amazing one, it is necessary to keep every hue and shade consistent. Color management with ICC profiles will help creators, designers, illustrators, and photographers retain precise color spaces, even as the file moves across multiple devices. It is also essential to ensure that your devices are calibrated with a colorimeter from time to time.
All device manufacturers have bespoke ICC profiles for different input, display, and output devices. It is always helpful to check their websites regularly to get your ICC profiles updated. Or invest in a monitor with built-in software such as ICCSync to simplify the color syncing process. In all, just remember ICC profiles are a creative’s best friend.
If you are looking to get a monitor that achieves color accuracy and consistency, read our complete guide on the matter. Or discover ViewSonic ColorPro professional monitors with embedded ICCSync software made for creative work here.